The percentage of homeowners late with mortgage payments hit another record during the last three months of 2009, and the pace at which they fell behind took a turn for the worse, a new report says.
For the fourth quarter, 6.89 percent of mortgage payments were 60 or more days past due, according to credit reporting agency TransUnion. That is up from 4.58 percent in the final three months of 2008.
The previous record delinquency rate was 6.25 percent in the third quarter of 2009.
The latest report marked the 12th consecutive quarter — equal to three full years — that delinquency rates have risen from the previous year.
More worrisome was that the quarter-to-quarter trend swung higher after declining in each of the previous three quarters.
The fourth-quarter uptick was in part due normal seasonal spending shifts, said FJ Guarrera, vice president of TransUnion's financial services business unit.
Consumers are more likely to have trouble paying bills during the last few months of the year, as they run low on cash because of holiday spending.
But even accounting for normal season patterns, there is some reason to be concerned about the pace of increase moving higher, Guarrera said.
"To see continuing growth in the first quarter would certainly raise an eyebrow," he said.
He noted that many homeowners still have adjustable rate mortgages written in late 2006 or early 2007 due to reset to higher rates in coming months.
That could drive foreclosures even higher, especially in areas where home prices have fallen to the point where values are lower than mortgages.
"We're not out of the woods yet," Guarrera said.
TransUnion tracks mortgages that are two months past due as an indicator of potential foreclosure, because of the difficulty involved in coming up with three payments to bring an account current. The data is culled from the company's database of 27 million consumer records.
The agency said the delinquency rate stayed highest in Nevada, at 16.2 percent, and Florida, at 14.9 percent. Arizona and California, the other two states hit hardest by the housing crisis, were third and fourth, at 11.3 percent and 11 percent, respectively.
The highest growth rates compared with the third quarter were in the District of Columbia, Louisiana and Delaware.
The lowest delinquencies remain in North Dakota, at 1.8 percent, and South Dakota, at 2.5 percent.
There were some bright spots in the report.
While no states that showed delinquency rate improvement in the fourth quarter, TransUnion said there were improvements in the areas around 38 cities. That reflects other signs that the economic recovery will be tied to local housing prices and unemployment rates, TransUnion said.
The average national mortgage debt per borrower also increased to $193,690 in the latest quarter from $192,789 in the fourth quarter of 2008.
"We've said all along that home values have got to improve in order to see some stabilization in terms of mortgage delinquencies," Guarrera said.
An increase in the amount of the average mortgage debt indicates rising home prices.
TransUnion expects foreclosures to continue rising throughout this year, peaking between 7.5 percent and 8 percent.
The situation will be worst in Nevada, where as many as one in five mortgage borrowers may be delinquent by the middle of the year.
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